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Jason Picker
06 Jun, 2009

Virtua Tennis 2009 Review

PS3 Review | Contains absolutely no puns about balls.
Before we start the review, please give us a minute to get a few of the groan-worthy tennis puns out of our system before we begin. “Virtua Tennis 2009 serves up another mild update of the tennis series.” “If this ball’s in your court, you may have to think hard about returning it.” ”Virtua Tennis 2009 is more of a miss-hit than a smash.” Come to think of it, that’s actually a pretty good summary, and if we didn’t have a word count to meet we’d be tempted to leave it there.

From the second you load up the disk and hear the dulcet tones of an American voice-over guy telling you that you’re playing Virtua Tennis 2009 (just in case you weren’t sure what disk you’d just loaded), it’s clear that not much has changed in the arcade tennis series. In fact, it’s so similar to the previous installment, Virtua Tennis 3, that 9 out of 10 dentists can’t tell the difference.

We shouldn’t have expected much else given that changing the gameplay of the series has never really been a priority for SEGA. In fact, not much has changed since the series debuted on the Dreamcast 10 years and three installments ago. And in many ways, this decision is justified as Virtua Tennis has always been a very polished experience. At its core, the Virtua Tennis series harks back to the simplicity and addictiveness of Pong, but with better graphics. No fancy-pants simulation of the real sport here.

Virtua Tennis 2009 only burdens the player with a couple of buttons to learn, one button is for the top spin (or hard) shot, the square and circle buttons both provide the slice shot, and the triangle allows you to lob. And that’s really it. It's an easy-to-play, hard-to-master sort of game, and one which rewards players for being in the right position early. Once in the right position, pressing a button to return the ball before it reaches you is rewarded with greater power and angle. However, if you're out of position you’ll stumble and be forced to hit a dolly back to your opponent, making it much more difficult to win the point.

The grass - and the shirts - are always greener on the other side.

The grass - and the shirts - are always greener on the other side.
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Similarly with every other version of the series, Virtua Tennis 2009 features a pretty comprehensive single-player ‘World Tour’ mode which allows you to create a character from the rather limited customisation tools, and to take your new freak to the top of the tennis world by training and playing tournaments. The setup of the player statistics has been simplified into three categories that relate to serve and volley, footwork and technique, and groundstrokes. You can also pick a single skill to excel at from one of the unlocked levels, such as ‘powerful strokes’, ‘volley master’ and ‘fast runner’. You can build up these statistics in three different ways. The first is to go to the Tennis Academy where a mute Tim Henman will help you improve your game by giving you objectives to achieve in a set timeframe. This includes such tasks as ‘hit two drop shots in a row’ or ‘play a 10 shot rally’. The second way is to play practice matches against the people who challenge you. And the third way, and probably the most fun, is to play one of the twelve mini-games.

Fans of the series will be pleased to know that some of their favourite mini-games have returned, including ‘Pin Crasher’ where you serve to knock down the bowling pins, and ‘Avalanche’, where you have to avoid giant tennis balls while collecting the fruit. No, it makes no sense to us either. There are also five new mini-games, including ‘Zoo Feeder’ where negligent zookeepers launch food at you and you have to hit it to the particular animal who wants to eat it (lions have a thing for pizza incidentally, must have missed that episode of National Geographic), and ‘Pirate Wars’, where you have to sink the pirate ships that shoot tennis balls and cannon balls at you. In a first for the series, you can upload your scores from the mini-games to the online worldwide leaderboard if you’re into that sort of thing. While the majority of the mini-games are quite fun, you can expect to play them multiple times to ensure your character has maximum stats before you start playing harder opponents. Annoyingly, you don’t earn statistics from playing in tournaments. Obviously SEGA want us to experience the mini-games, but not awarding performance-based statistics for playing actual games is really unforgivable the fourth time around.

The ball's in your court...sigh.

The ball's in your court...sigh.
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Overall, World Tour is a bit of a grind. Playing in the early tournaments is pretty dull as your opponents move like they have concrete boots on and offer no challenge. Winning tournaments also only sees you rise a couple of places up the rankings, and you have to play doubles tournaments to move up faster, which comes loaded with its own grievances because of your partner’s limited AI. But the less said about that the better, and anyone who has played Virtua Tennis before will be well prepared to scream at your partner's inability to do see opportunities to win points. What’s more annoying is that you start as an amateur and have to make it into the top 8 and win the end of year tournament before you can enter the professional competition where the whole thing starts all over again, except this time you start another 50 places lower. However, you can enter online games and tournaments via the 'Online HQ' icon, and if you win matches and tournaments you'll get points that can be used for your overall singles and doubles rankings. This would have been a great way to break up World Tour if online play wasn't flawed, but we’ll look more at that shortly.

Strangely, Virtua Tennis 2009 features some glitches you’d expect to have been ironed out considering this is the second game in the series to be released on the current consoles. There continues to be quite lengthy load times between every area of the game. Even in tournaments, you can expect to wait for ten to fifteen seconds while it loads up. This may not seem excessive, but when you play five or so games in a tournament it can really test your patience, especially as you can’t save your game part of the way through. The game also ‘stutters’ on occasion. It’s not a massive problem, but in our time with the game there was a noticeable pause at least once every half an hour or so, which could sometimes mean the difference between winning and losing the point. We also noticed some slowdown on some of the courts while playing in doubles tournaments, particularly the hideous pink court.

We’d also like to give a mention to the music. Fans of the series will not be shocked to hear that the generic music has returned yet again. For the uninitiated, it sounds sort of like someone chucked the most generic Nickelback song and converted it to elevator music. We’re also pretty sure some of the music has been recycled from Virtua Tennis 3, along with some of the sound effects and character animations. We'd also like to give credit for one of the few improvements to the gameplay - the ‘stumble’ feature. In previous Virtua Tennis games, not being in position or pressing a button when the ball was not very close often ended with your character falling over, which often meant losing that point. However, this has been improved and now your character will only stumble a little and will recover faster. This is great news for the premature button pressers out there.

The first ever game of invisible tennis was not popular with fans.

The first ever game of invisible tennis was not popular with fans.
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Then there is the online mode, which is the the major draw-card for fans of the series as this is the first Virtua Tennis game to be properly online-enabled. Both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game feature an online ranking system in which you can play single games, doubles games, and even tournaments. We spent a bit of time online, and overall we found the experience a bit underwhelming. While the games played without too much lag or glitches for the most part, there seemed to be a strange occurrence that when you hit the ball, the ball stops momentarily in front of the opposing player before they return it. We’re not sure if this was a deliberate attempt to counter lagging, or whether it actually is lagging, but it completely changes the flow of a game and is very off-putting. If this is a deliberate feature, and it seems to be as other people have complained about it and it happened to us everytime we logged on, then this is a major flaw. Considering Virtua Tennis is a game built on speed, we’re surprised by this decision if it was indeed deliberate.

Overall, Virtua Tennis 2009 remains the best arcade tennis game on the market. The game features a number of tennis’s biggest names, including Federer, Nadal, and Sharapova. The game also includes the Davis Cup for the first time, so you can compete on behalf of your country of choice. And if you've never played a game in this series before, you can add a point to the final score. However, fans of the series who expected something remotely new or innovative should be prepared to be disappointed. Considering how much games like Top Spin have improved over previous few iterations, Virtua Tennis should be looking over its shoulder, especially if it thinks it can continue to coast on past glories. Sure, it’s currently still the number one arcade tennis game available, but it needs to evolve, and soon.
The Score
While Virtua Tennis 2009 is still the best arcade tennis game around, it is hard to recommend for anyone who has any of the previous games. With too few changes and a faulty online experience, Virtua Tennis 2009 doesn't quite miss the ball, but it's certainly no ace.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Virtua Tennis 2009 Content

Virtua Tennis 2009 pushed back to June
08 May, 2009 A longer wait to hit some furry green balls.
Smash Court Tennis 3 Review
25 Jun, 2007 The ball's in your court.
Virtua Tennis 3 Review
08 Apr, 2007 McEnroe tantrums not included.
7 Comments
4 years ago
The more i play this game, the more i agree with the review.

There should be a Royal Commission in to how this game was allowed to be sold with the exact same music as the previous game. It's hands down the worst in-game music ever.

And it is really frustrating and tedious to play through the career. There really isn't enough of a mix-up to keep you interested.
4 years ago
haha great review! love the puns.
4 years ago
Quote
there seemed to be a strange occurrence that when you hit the ball, the ball stops momentarily in front of the opposing player before they return it. We’re not sure if this was a deliberate attempt to counter lagging
i was really thinking it was lag. but i only played 2 games against others from the uk so wow i dont like that idea at all.
funny thing is i played a doubles match me and the com, against 2 other players online, and the com hit the ball then it got to the other player and stopped, it wouldnt move, everyone was running around sending messages to each other and noone could hit the ball, we all stayed in the game for 10 mins to see if it would fix itself but nope, glitch that ruined the a great game in the last set of the match.
4 years ago
Cheers for the review. I was going to take up GAME's trade deal, but after seeing this review, I might give this game a pass.

And no Kheven, the game is Virtua Tennis 2009.
4 years ago
No one uses 'disks' anymore - its spelled disc with a 'c'. Disk is short for diskette.
4 years ago
Both disk and disc are accepted, and as I was born before 1990, I'm going with disk. If I don't criticise your spelling of "it's" let's call it even icon_smile.gif
4 years ago
I have Virtua Tennis 3 and just could not find a reason to play it. When it comes to sporting games i feel the only thing that ever holds up is racing and soccer. The rest grow very old, very quickly.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  28/05/2009 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $99.95 AU
Publisher:
  SEGA Australia
Genre:
  Sports
Year Made:
  2008

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